I think picking five albums is an impossible task for anyone – particularly a musician. I could easily fill up my top five lists with only Beatles and White Stripes albums. However, I wanted to show some variety, so I left those two bands off of my list. Instead, what I have imagined is the scenario where I am on a sinking ship and have a bag of my top 100 favorite albums. I can’t hold on to all of them, but before I jump ship, I reach into the bag and manage to grab five random albums. Fair enough? Okay, here we go . . . let’s see what I managed to save before the ship went down.
Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks
Blood on the Tracks proves that lightning can strike twice. In the midst of some intense emotional turmoil, Bob Dylan found his second breath of inspiration and proved that he wasn’t just a ’60s icon. The lyrical imagery of each track is so powerful that every song unfolds like its own movie. On this album, Dylan’s lyrics are so good, it’s unfair. For example, in “Tangled Up in Blue”: “And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burnin’ coal, pourin’ off of every page like it was written in my soul from me to you.” Mercy! Who thinks of stuff like that? It’s incredible. Then there’s the fantastic male/female perspective juxtaposition going back and forth in “A Simple Twist of Fate”: Brilliant. In addition to each song containing a complex story, the emotions of each track pull me in every time, from the shyly emotional optimism of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” to the heart-wrenching “If You See Her Say Hello.” When I’m on the road, there’s a good chance I’m listening to Blood on the Tracks.
The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main St.
This is my favorite Rolling Stones album. I love the record, because it’s such a rich work filled with numerous styles of music – gritty fast rock ‘n’ roll, country, blues, soul, ballads – a little something for everyone. It’s a long album, but every time I put it on, I discover something new. Early on, I was drawn to the feisty one-two-punch of “Rocks Off” and “Rip This Joint” as well as classics like “Tumbling Dice” and “Happy.” Then, the more I listened, the more I appreciated the deeper tracks such as – “Sweet Black Angel,” “Shine a Light,” “Ventilator Blues,” “Soul Survivor” . . . so many great songs! I’ve been listening to this album for the last ten years and it still sounds new and exciting to me.
Fastball – All The Pain Money Can Buy
When I was in sixth grade, this was the first “current” album I ever purchased. I was in love with the song “The Way.” There was something about its infectious chorus that grabbed me. I didn’t have the money to buy it on CD, so I got it on cassette and played it over and over again. However, as time went on (and I stopped listening to tapes), I more or less forgot about it. I hadn’t listened to this album for almost a decade until last week when I found a used copy of the CD in the dollar bin at a local record store. I could not resist, and fell in love with it all over again.
Rediscovering this album as an adult really made me appreciate why I was drawn to it initially. Up to that point in my life, I primarily listened to the Beatles, Elvis and the oldies station. Fastball was a good gateway for me to get into modern music. Their music took Beatle-like harmonies, song structures and guitar tones and mixed them with elements of other classic artists such as Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones – yet they didn’t sound like some throwback band. Perhaps it goes back to the album’s pristine late ’90s pop production? I don’t know for sure, but it holds up well and has a lot of quality material – “The Way,” “Out of My Head,” “Fire Escape,” “Sooner Or Later” . . . Fastball never was able to maintain the popularity they earned with All the Pain Money Can Buy. All in all, it’s still a delightful album. Check it out or re-listen to it; there’s a reason it went platinum.
Blink-182 – Enema Of The State
The single “Dammit” and the album Dude Ranch put Blink-182 on the map, but it was with Enema of the State that the band took over the radio, MTV and the world, while also inspiring millions of kids to pick up instruments. Haters can dwell on Tom DeLonge’s nasal voice or highlight some of the album’s more sophomoric lyrical themes, but it rocks. Every time I hear the strings turning to feedback transition of “Adam’s Song” into “All the Small Things,” I get chills. Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge know how to write songs that combine bratty punk rudeness with sugar-sweet pop: “What’s My Age Again,” “Going Away to College,” and “The Party Song” are all perfect examples. The late Jerry Finn did an awesome job producing. The guitars crunch as Travis Barker’s drums pop, making everything shake with energy. Listening to Enema of the State is like drinking an ice-cold Cherry Coke on a hot summer day: it feels good and it’s pretty much perfect.
Ben Kweller – Sha Sha
Around the time I first heard Ben Kweller, I was beginning to write music for my first high school rock band. Ben Kweller’s debut album, Sha Sha, is a cool record, because it balances singer-songwriter sensitivity and quirkiness with garage rock anthems. In fact, the first song I ever played live with that first band was “Commerce, TX.” It’s still one of my all-time favorite songs. It starts off with that clean guitar and vocal entrance before it all kicks in with the distortion and drums – almost like a lighter version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” There’s something about Ben Kweller’s music that gives me no choice but to sing along, whether it’s the Beatleque harmonies of “Family Tree” or the teenage raunch of “Wasted and Ready.” The album’s closer, “Falling,” is a cool song that beautifully builds from simple piano and drums, before throwing in a Billy Joel-style bridge, and then closing with a very epic “wall of sound” ending. From start to finish, it’s a great debut record and would make great company for any stranded traveler.
Dan Miraldi’s latest album, Sugar & Adrenaline, is out now.